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By Bryce Francis

Over the last few months I have been spending a lot of hours on the water chasing mangrove jack at night. Jacks are a very smart fish and in SEQ (southeast Queensland) can be quite hard to catch at times because of the amount of boat traffic. This is the main reason we fish at night, when there are less boats on the water. Big flathead, tailor, tarpon, jewfish, trevally and cod are the most common by-catch that we come across when fishing for mangrove jack.

Mangrove jack will hang around bridges, logs, jetties, pontoons, flats, back eddies and anywhere that there is some sort of structure. My favourite place to target them though is on rock bars. The rock bars that we fish vary in depth from 1m - 5m and some stretch for a long length of the river, while others are small patches of rock and rubble.

I like to use the 'spot lock' function on the Minn Kota electric motor to position the boat down current of the chosen area and cast back up, so that I can work the lure back to the boat with the tide. Although there aren't too many secret spots left in the rivers anymore, I try to work out which spots are receiving the least amount of fishing pressure at the time and fish these spots. People will often forget about spots that may have fished well many years ago, when they actually still hold good numbers of fish.

Another great option is to fish under the bigeye trevally schools. To locate them, look for bust ups in areas that normally hold a lot of bait. By using larger plastics and sinking them underneath the bigeye trevs, you can come across anything from big trevally and tailor, to barra and jacks. These bigger fish follow the bigeye schools around and wait for scraps of baitfish to sink down from the fish feeding on the surface.

I find the week before the full moon to be the most productive, however spending a lot of time on the water is the most important thing in terms of helping you to get to know what is going on in your river system at the time. I believe that the more time you spend on the water, the more you'll learn about jacks or any other species that you are targeting.

The run out tide is normally the best and when I catch the majority of my jacks, although they do feed on the run in, just not as aggressively. Before I go fishing for the night, I try to plan a few spots that I will fish, the time of night I will fish them and how long for, depending on the tides. Normally an hour is long enough to know if the spot is fishing well. I always arrive at my first spot an hour before dark and try to go somewhere at this time where I will have a chance at other species as well as jacks, including trevally, tailor, tarpon, grunter, jewfish etc., because these fish feed best in the last and first hour of daylight.

The gear I use when targeting jacks can be anything from 6lb - 30lb, depending on structure and current. Although it's not what most people would use, I mostly use my lightest set ups which consist of a 1-4kg rod and a 1000 size reel loaded with 6-10lb braid and 12-20b leader. The reason I use such light gear is because I believe that it gives you the split second advantage at the start of the fight, where fish have not realised they have been hooked. It gives you a small time frame to get the first few winds on the fish and turn its head. I have found that when using a heavier rod, the jack seem to run a lot harder in the first stage of the fight and although you may have more pulling power, if a big jack is inches from a hole in the oyster encrusted rocks, chances are it's going to run you straight into it. On a light rod the jack just don't seem to run in the start of the fight, but once you get them a metre or two away from the bottom they then try to run back down. With the right knots and drag settings they can normally be stopped.

If you want to give your bream gear a good stretch on the jacks, a good knot is essential. The knot I use is an FG Knot, which I believe is the strongest knot out there. They are quite difficult to learn and take some practice to get perfect, but are worth the effort. Having such a strong knot means that you can have confidence in running a fully locked drag when fishing really tight structure on light gear for jacks.

The other setups that I use, when fishing bigger lures or heavier leaders are 3000 size reels, 4-8kg rods, 15-30lb braid and 20-30lb leaders. Most of the ZMan range of plastics will catch jacks at different times, however the ones that I have had most success on include the ZMan 4" SwimmerZ rigged on a 3/8oz 4/0 TT Lures HeadlockZ HD jighead, ZMan 4" Scented ShrimpZ in New Penny colour rigged on a 1/4oz 4/0 HeadlockZ HD jighead, ZMan 3" MinnowZ in Gold Rush and Calico Candy colours, rigged on either a 1/4oz or 3/8oz 3/0 DemonZ jighead in Golden Boy colour and a ZMan 5" GrubZ in Copper Penny colour rigged on a 3/8oz 4/0 HeadlockZ HD jighead. I always use a small amount of Pro-Cure Mullet Super Gel Scent on the ZMan.

The techniques that I use are always different, depending on the area, depth of water and strength of tide. I also mix up the techniques each cast, so that I can work out what is working on that particular night. I find that most of the time an aggressive retrieve normally works best with the paddle tails, while I use a slower retrieve for the ShrimpZ and GrubZ. With the MinnowZ and SwimmerZ, anything from one big aggressive hop to six small hops can work, with my favourite retrieve being two big, fast hops, with a pause long enough for the lure to hit the bottom. When using the ShrimpZ I use just a slow roll along the bottom, with the odd lift every now and again. When fishing the 5" GrubZ, one or two long lifts followed by a large pause works quite well, especially when the fish are being finicky.

In my boat I have two large live wells that are very useful when targeting jacks. I have found that jacks will feed in bite periods and you might catch nothing for an hour, then catch two or three in a few minutes. This is where the live wells are so useful. Once we catch one, we put it straight into the live well and get back to fishing. This means that instead of wasting time getting photos we can keep fishing and normally get a few fish (or bust-offs) in a short space of time. Once the bite has slowed down or we are leaving the spot, we go and get photos and then release them.

I always check all of the camera settings are right before getting the jacks out of the live well to take photos, ensuring that they are out of the water for the minimal length of time. Jacks are great fun as a sport fish and I always enjoy taking care and time when releasing them to make sure they swim off healthy.

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